The Professor’s 2021 NFL Preview: NFC West – Arizona Cardinals

TheProfessor_NFL Preview Cardinals

Arizona Cardinals

Team Projection

TeamPoints ForPoints AgainstGames FavoredPythagorean Expected Wins

The Cardinals enter their third season of the Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray experiment, and while general manager Steve Keim has made a number of roster changes, their fortunes in the loaded NFC West will ultimately depend on whether Murray’s flashes of dynamic playmaking become more consistent.

Keim added well-known veterans in running back James Conner, wide receiver A.J. Green, center Rodney Hudson, edge defender J.J. Watt, and corner Malcolm Butler. The trade for Hudson is as close as the league saw to the trade for receiver DeAndre Hopkins in the previous offseason, as Keim surrendered a relatively low amount of draft capital for a veteran who has consistently played at an elite level over the past three years.

The additions of Conner and Green bring greater risk, given their respective histories of injuries and ineffective play, but Conner’s physical style at least provides a complementary skillset to fellow back Chase Edmonds. Watt is coming off a strong season, though the ineptitude of Houston’s defense prevented him from posting big numbers, and Butler, while not an elite player, brings younger legs to the outside corner spot than the departed Patrick Peterson and Dre Kirkpatrick.

In the draft, the Cardinals used their first two picks on linebacker Zaven Collins and receiver Rondale Moore. Collins, the 16th overall pick, has already been handed a spot in the starting lineup, an announcement that has caused last year’s starter, Jordan Hicks, to seek a trade. It’s a dubious move on Arizona’s part; while the expectation is obviously that the first-round draft picks will turn into great players, fans need to look no further than last year’s 8th overall pick, Isaiah Simmons, for a reminder that elite prospects often turn out to be ineffective pros. Simmons still has time to make an impact, and Collins may be a huge upgrade from Day One, but it’s also possible that Hicks is still the best linebacker on this team, and now he may not be a part of it.

The addition of Moore, on the other hand, appears to be a dream scenario. His injury history affected his draft stock, but Arizona added an offensive weapon with juice to a unit that badly needed a spark. Hopkins continues to be one of the league’s best at contested catches and run after catch opportunities, but he’s not a burner, and the decision to add Green, one of my all-time favorite receivers who was a shell of himself last season, seems unlikely to provide great value. Christian Kirk may see more opportunities in the slot if Larry Fitzgerald elects to retire, but it’s difficult to count on big things from Kirk as he enters the final year of his rookie deal, though he does bring explosive traits.

As mentioned, this ultimately comes down to Murray’s development. It’s obvious that he has the tools to be special; he simply needs to become more consistent. If that happens, Murray will elevate the players around him, and if the offense does its part, the newly-formed pass-rush tandem of Watt and Chandler Jones will have ample opportunity to go to work. The NFC West is a brutal division, but the upside on this team is significant.

QB Passing Projections

Kyler Murray517406.1601.20.687.64570.326.412.822.79

QB Rushing Projections

Kyler Murray517112.45.92665.69.724.742.322.79

Skill Projections, Rushing

Chase EdmondsRB8917115.74.63535.34.425.419.18.52
Christian KirkWR92179.17.0163.
James ConnerRB9317166.94.01668.96.936.629.98.38
Eno BenjaminRB2821751.53.53181.

Skill Projections, Receiving

DeAndre HopkinsWR41771.8125.612.951626.
Chase EdmondsRB891771.741.57.35304.
Christian KirkWR921763.663.712.28781.54.416.616.68.39
James ConnerRB931783.724.46.96170.
Rondale MooreWR1081762.752.912.78676.55.414.120.47.44
A.J. GreenWR2041749.228.110.29289.
KeeSean JohnsonWR2561765.122.810.35235.
Maxx WilliamsTE2801784.720.39.73197.
Andy IsabellaWR2901768.813.613.53184.
Darrell DanielsTE3131769.713.17.89103.

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Steven Clinton, better known as "The Professor", is a former D-1 Quality Control Assistant (Northwestern, Toledo) who holds a B.A. in Economics and M.S. in Predictive Analytics from Northwestern University. He maintains an end-to-end NFL game projection model and is a film junkie who breaks down the tape of every NFL game.